Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day Thirty: Big Sur

The Big Sur drive is one of the most famour routes, immortalised by the works of John Steinbeck. We had been warned that the road was quite a winding one, but figured - hey we're from NZ, we have many winding roads. Which is true, but the Big Sur route is quite a long one.

We started with a brief visit to Camel-by-the-sea.  There are apparently lots of quirky houses here, but we didn't see any truly strange ones. Just quaint and charming buildings nestled into the trees - there was even a Thomas Kinkade shop in the little shopping district. We wind our way through the grid of streets to the beautiful golden-white beach, shimmering blue water flecked with patches of kelp (which we scanned without avail for sea otters). Early morning dog walkers are up and about, and crows roost in a skeletel tree. I find a keycard lying in the sand.

Up in highland Carmel the streets have whimsical names - Spindrift and Peterpan lane. The general store looks like it belongs in a storybook. Beyond it the road dips in and out of the pine forest, offering stunning vistas of the ocean - of sparkling blue water speckled with kelp.
At Vista Point we stop to - admire the vista, also to give my husband a brief respite from the winding road. Harbour seals lounge on the rocks like great mammalian slugs.

Sheer cliffs, rocky outcrops give a stark and wild beauty, mostly unobscured by trees. I can understand why Big Sur has its reputation. It is a view often marred by fog - which given our Alcatraz visit, we were a bit concerned about. Needlessly, as it turned out - the view is clear and crisp. The sand is golden-white and dunes frame the road, carpeted in red, green and gold.

The road veers away from the sea and heads inland a while, the the township of El Padre where we pass through a small strand of  redwoods, amongst which nestles a small church. Here there are campgrounds, a store - this is the actual "Big Sur" area should you be looking for accommodation. Then it is back to the shoreline.

The views are stunning, but not properly enjoyed by the poor driver, who must keep his concentration on the road. It is not that the Big Sur is particularly demanding - it winds a fair amount by US standards but it's not exactly like a switchback-roaded hill as is typical in NZ. It just goes on. And on.

At Lusia I find welcome relieve at the General Store. Outside, under the sign, swifts dart and dive under and around it. A brief investigation shows why:

The interior of the sign is covered - and I mean covered, in swifts nests, artfully made of spit and mud. Little faces and big yellow beaks peer out at us.

After that, the roads become much straighter, the driving somewhat less strenuous. We are now in the San Simeon area, home to Hearsts' Castle. Where, sadly, the driver decides not to make the detour. There are still many miles to cover before we reach LA.

We do stop to meet some of the locals. This is the most accessible elephant seal colony on the mainland. Apparently they moved in here some years ago. There are volunteers on site, observing the animals and answering questions.

Elephant seals are not the most attractive of beasties. With their strange, bubous noses and blubbery bodies. When they move, it is in an odd crawling-dragging manner that sends ripples through their blubbery hide. Some scoop sand over their bulky bodies, others squabble and a couple of the males bellow at each other.

Here you will see the "mammalian slug" description rings very true too!

Then it is into the desert again.

We have a late lunch at the Cowgirl Cafe in SLO, where I partake of a turkey, bacon and avocado toasted sandwich. I am disappointed that the staff do not where cowboy hats. Oh well.

We stop at Santa Barbara, to lounge by the beach. It is a busy place, with golden-white sand and lots of people enjoying the sun - even a few bathers. The pristine beauty is marred only by the oil rigs, lining up on the horizon like ominous invaders. We enjoy milkshakes and a brief respite from the road. This is typical California - palm trees, Spanish-esque architecture; sun, sea and sand.

 It is still a good two hours to our final destination. Across freeways and over hills. Los Angeles sure has quite a sprawl going on! As we pass by Oxnard, I am glad that we decided not to stay there. It does not look the most illustrious of cities - and it is a long way from where we're going. Tonight we are staying in Howard Johnson's in the Reseda area. It is not in the most high-end part of town - this is an area of small businesses, including porn shops, but the place is nice and the carpark surrounded by barbed wire and an automatic gate. We make the journey down to Arby's for dinner, where I enjoy their chicken pecan sandwich and curly fries with horseradish sauce.

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